30 Days of Blog - Day 3 - Milk sharing and technology

Welcome to day 3 of 30. I feel like I've been writing for weeks now and it's only day 3! Hopefully it will get easier rather than harder from here. 

This 30 day challenge has put me in a mindset that is constantly self evaluating my thoughts to determine if they are worthwhile to put in your hands. Even if you think every word I write is gold, I'm going to tell you that there is plenty of really mundane stuff up in this brain, so I hope I'm filtering it enough to get to the good stuff...

Starting off today I will cover a topic that was requested by Steven Lim via Facebook. I mentioned milk foam sharing yesterday as a way to help make multiple drinks and he wanted to know more. I have been asked about this topic plenty, so let's start there.

"Milk sharing" (a term that sounds incredibly lame if you ask me) refers to the simple act of pouring off some of the milk and foam to save for later. You see this technique in competitions very frequently because the goal is to end up with same amount of foam/milk in each drink poured. While it seems like a relatively simple concept, it needs a little bit of forethought in order to pull off successfully. 

The first thing to consider with a full jug of fresh, properly steamed milk is that even when the milk and foam are well integrated and homogenous, more of the foam will tend to pour out first and less will pour out later. This is because milk foam is full of air and it wants to rise to the top. When your milk and foam have separated, the liquid portion will pour out first. But when they are integrated the foam will pour in large quantities. The more thick and airy your foam, the more will come out at the beginning. 

When it comes to techniques, I usually teach baristas to pour the first 2-3 ounces (60-90ml) of milk into a second heated jug, pour your drink with the first jug, then add your pour off back into the first jug and reincorporate by swirling/grooming. You will notice that both drinks will have a similar amount of foam if done right. Of course timing is still important, and you don't want any of the milk to be sitting for more than the few seconds it takes to finish pouring the drinks. 

You will need to experiment a little to get a feel for how much of the initial milk should be poured. If the second drink has too much foam you actually poured off too much. If the first drink still has too much you didn't pour enough. The technique gets a little trickier when you start to plan for more than two drinks like I did at WBC. 

For that I used one 1 liter jug to steam the milk, then split the milk pouring the first @3oz into a 20oz (600ml) jug, then filled my 12oz (360ml) jug with milk, and finally topped the last of the milk (which was mostly liquid) into the first jug. The two jugs were then taken to the table with the cups and espresso. The first pour I dropped a little milk from the 12oz jug into the 20oz and poured the capp from the 12oz jug. I then over filled the 12oz jug each time to get my proper proportion of foam (by overfilling I ensured getting both foam and liquid). The overfilled 12oz jug then poured a small amount back into the 20oz jug before continuing to pour the actual capp. I continued this for each drink. 

This sounds incredibly complicated, and perhaps it was, but it happened in a very short amount of time to prevent excess heat loss (or separation) in the process. In my mind the method worked very simply because I was focused on how much foam should be in each jug, and knowing that the first pour would have extra foam I could manage just how much was being portioned. So there you have it, my probably-over-complicated-but-totally-how-I-did-it, method of milk sharing at WBC.

Now that you milk geeks are sated, let's talk about something a little more controversial. 

My second topic is technology in the cafe.

The other day I came across a semi-automatic espresso machine with a built in auto shutoff steam wand. You have probably seen them before, they have that weird second probe attached and just a button to open the steam valve. I have seen these things for years and years and never really had what I would call a great experience with them. Until the other day.

This machine worked very well, steaming and stretching the milk just like I always do. My bigger concern was with the final temperature of the milk, and lo and behold it anticipated a couple degrees and turned itself off at almost exactly where I would have done so manually. Honestly it shouldn't have surprised me as much as it did (I'm just used to melting my tongue on drinks from these), but the conversation afterward went more in the direction of when technology is helpful. I know some people out there feel that coffee making should be automated in the future, but I disagree. 

Coffee preparation will go in two different directions in the future. Automation and craftsmanship. The funny thing is that these two directions already exist today (ie. Starbucks vs your fancy specialty cafe), they will just keep getting redefined and perhaps further apart. Automation people will go toward efficiency and scale, and craftsmanship people will go toward customization and personalized service. I personally am a fan of both concepts for different reasons. High quality automated coffee making makes sense when labor is at a premium and costs must be low. Traditional coffee preparation is also awesome because it gives such a personal touch to service. I imagine the price of those drinks would be higher, more exclusive, and ideally a part of a bigger experience. 

Regardless, I feel that technology in coffee making is coming and when it maintains quality levels and achieves the same (or better) results we should consider how to adopt that tech. It doesn't mean we have to, just that it can make things better. For example, my initial thought with temperature probe auto shutoff steam wands was that there would never be an under or over heated drink in your service. Obviously customer preference varies, and should be allowed, but even eliminating a couple jugs of milk being wasted each day can add up to savings for a cafe owner. The milk quality is just as good, and the baristas would still get to make latte art (be still my sarcastic heart), so why wouldn't you use one?

Don't think that I will be afraid of using any piece of equipment that comes my way in the future though. I still believe a great barista should be able to make great drinks no matter what equipment they are handed. 

So what am I asking you for today? Have a lovely day and care for others who need your help. That's my hippie moment for today, take it for what it is!

See you tomorrow,

Pete

Posted on September 6, 2017 and filed under Blog.